Graphic by David Chen

God’s authentic message brings peace, joy, new and abundant life

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  • April 27, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7 (Year A) Acts 2:14a, 36b-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

The Spirit gives us the courage and strength to speak and act despite our fear.

Peter was absolutely consumed with fear during the arrest and trial of Jesus, even denying Him to save his own skin. He was undoubtedly racked with shame and guilt. After empowerment by the Spirit, however, he boldly proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Messiah, and called those who had called for the death of Jesus to account.

The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead was divine confirmation of His status. Those who heard Peter were horrified — what could they possibly do about it now? Had they missed their chance? Humans often do things impulsively, swept up in fear, hysteria or collective insanity, only to have deep regrets later.

Conscious of his own weakness and failure, and believing that the final days were near, Peter was reassuring.

The offer of salvation was extended: repent, be baptized, receive the Spirit. Many eagerly embraced this compassionate offer and were baptized.

The impression the text gives is that the baptized would be the only ones saved, while all others were doomed. This was very much part of the apocalyptic theology of the first century. But we are faced with the fact that Jesus has not returned and the final judgment has not yet occurred.

We also have a deeper understanding of the ways in which God works in history and in individual lives. While still maintaining the importance of baptism, we can recognize that God’s ways are far greater than anything we can imagine.

God never gives up on anyone, and the offer of salvation is extended many times and in diverse ways. It is never too late; no one is left behind.

Standing up for what is right is not often the fast track to praise and honour. In fact, often the negative pushback can leave us wondering if we are doing something wrong. The author of 1 Peter reminds us not to feel resentful or like victims when we suffer for what is right. It goes with the territory. Jesus was treated this way, so why should we be any different? We are constantly shepherded and guarded by the one who died for us, even though we often forget.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus often spoke in riddles and the parable of the shepherd is no exception. Even His audience and disciples did not understand its meaning.

He was speaking of the mystery of belief and unbelief. Why did some respond to the words of Jesus with acceptance and faith while others turned away in disgust? A sense of predestination runs through John’s Gospel — some people were just marked out beforehand to be followers of Jesus. That has never been an entirely satisfactory answer, for it raises far more questions than it answers.

The image of the sheep is far more helpful. He used the analogy of the way a flock of sheep recognizes the distinct voice of their shepherd and follow only him. Those who belong to Jesus will recognize Him and the authenticity of His words, and He will lead them safely to God.

How do they recognize His words? This would be useful, given that our world is filled with chaotic, shrill and conflicting voices. Like a piece of fine crystal that is struck, the words of Jesus resound with a deep and melodious tone. They are the words that stir the heart, enabling us to love and forgive. These words make us kinder, more tolerant of others, less prone to judge or condemn, more giving of self and more hopeful.

The authentic words of Jesus bring us closer together, removing barriers, fear and prejudice. Jesus mentioned the thieves and bandits, whose voices and actions are destructive. These are harsh and loveless voices, preaching condemnation, rigidity, division and spiritual arrogance. They are not there for the sheep, letting them down in painful and devastating ways.

There are many of these voices in the world and, unfortunately, many people are swept up in a tsunami of emotion, resentment and fear.

The Gospel passage is a challenge to hone and fine tune our inner spiritual senses and ability to listen to words with the heart. The authentic message from God brings peace and joy to the heart, and, above all, new and abundant life.

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